Image above: Kristin Milward as Judith, Fraser Anthony (standing), Josie Ayers as Rosemary, Baptiste Semin, Craig Crosbie as Johnny (seated, hidden) and Stephen Omer as David, in The Elephant in the Room at the Tabard theatre
Review by By Simon Thomsett
Whilst travelling in India, 19-year-old Ashley Davenport encounters Yama, the King of Death and begins to question his place in the world. Disillusioned with his fellow British tourists, disdainfully dismissed as “the shouting people” and overcome with ennui, he decides to give up and retire from this life, and with a “Bye bye world and good riddance,” checks himself in to a retirement home. Thus begins Peter Hamilton’s new play just opened at the theatre at the Tabard.
Fraser Anthony as Davenport embodies foppish posh privilege very well, he is matched by Yasser Kayani as the sceptical and alcoholic nurse Krish, who dismisses the younger man’s request (“I wish to renounce the world!”) at first but gradually comes round to it, largely on account of his ability to pay.
Image above: Fraser Anthony as Ashley Davenport
Kayani’s gently sardonic performance is a joy and he has gleeful fun watching events unfold and indulging others, even when things go wrong for him, helped in large part by a seemingly endless supply of fine malt whisky and a belief that things will work out. “God loves a drunkard,” he insists, even when the evidence would suggest otherwise.
What follows is Davenport’s integration into the closed world of the home. “What are you doing down among the dead?” intones the gloomy David, gleefully played for maximum pessimism by Stephen Omer; a good question given Davenport’s obvious privilege and apparent good health.
His fellow residents bicker, play Monopoly and reminisce; together they resemble a gathering of rather worn out ancient gods, an impression made manifest by the bright white celestial setting of Ken McClymont’s clever set which manages to make the retirement home look anything but cosy but rather more coldly clinical.
The other elders comprise of Josie Ayers (Rosemary) and Kristin Milward (Judith) who touchingly stick together and Craig Crosbie’s lecherous, wishful Johnny, who has a frankly alarming habit of staring open mouthed but absolutely still until suddenly picking up a long-forgotten line of thought.
Image above: Craig Crosbie, Fraser Anthony and Stephen Omer
They make a marvellous ensemble but will prove disturbing to anyone with any anxiety about growing old. They occupy their own small world and although welcoming of Davenport at first, realise as he settles in rather too cosily that something must be done: “He can’t be one of us, we’ve got to talk him out of it.”
Thrown into the mix is Baptiste Semin as pastry chef Miguel who seems at first content to pursue his trade but has a spiritual longing that brings dramatic and unlikely change after the interval.
Lee Jia-Yu completes the cast as Kim-Ly, a worried and insecure nurse desperate to find love, or marriage at least to ensure her future; she too will undergo sudden change as the story unfolds, regrettably into rather old-fashioned caricature.
Image above: Baptiste Semin as Miguel and Lee Jia-Yu as Kim-Ly
As for the old folk, Stephen Omer gets the best lines and makes the most of them: “I sometimes wish for all out nuclear war,” he says in one of his merrily miserable moments.
The elephant? Well, there is the one that lives in Davenport’s family home and allowed the freedom of the house once a year, and another glimpsed in impressionistic black and white projections moving slowly in the background during certain key moments, suggesting that there is something more going on below the surface of this strange story, but it’s not all that clear as to what that is.
Food for thought if a little rambling but with some moments of fun and strong performances, The Elephant in the Room plays until 2 December.
Book tickets: The Elephant in the Room
Image above: Kristin Milward and Josie Ayers
Since leaving full time work last year, he is now working as a consultant and on some small scale producing projects. He is a Chiswick resident and a passionate advocate for great theatre.